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ACM Flashback: Album of the Year

March 28, 2010 Kevin John Coyne 16

The ACM Awards has traditionally been overshadowed by the CMA Awards, despite its longer existence. This is for several reasons. First, the ACM originally existed to emphasize the West Coast country music scene, whereas the CMA Awards represented Nashville from the start. The ACM has also been more commercially-oriented from the beginning, as the history of this category proves. Eighteen of the last twenty winners in this ACM category are multi-platinum sellers, and the organization allowed greatest hits albums to compete for more than a decade.
Still, the ACM category has bragging rights of its own. Critically-acclaimed albums like Storms of Life, Trio, Killin’ Time and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend won at the ACMs but were overlooked by the CMAs. Additionally, women have also been far more successful at this ceremony. Only five women have ever won the CMA Album trophy, and one of them was Sissy Spacek! At the ACMs, women have dominated the category for the past three years, and the category has honored everyone from Loretta Lynn and Donna Fargo to K.T. Oslin and Shania Twain.

A special note about ACM flashbacks. Like the Grammys, the ACMs issue their award for a given year the following year, so the awards for 2009, for example, are given out in 2010. For the purposes of the flashbacks, Country Universe notes the year the award is presented. While the ACM first presented awards in 1966, the Album category wasn’t introduced until 1968.

As with other flashbacks, we begin with a look at this year’s nominees:


  • Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum
  • Miranda Lambert, Revolution
  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
  • Carrie Underwood, Play On
  • Zac Brown Band, The Foundation

Three previous winners – Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley, and Carrie Underwood – compete against the debut albums of two hot bands. Lady Antebellum and Zac Brown Band each picked up a Grammy this year and are well represented on the rest of the ACM ballot. This is a very competitive race. Even the sales-friendly nature of the ACMs doesn’t help much here, as four of these albums are platinum and Lambert’s just went gold.


  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
  • Montgomery Gentry, Back When I Knew It All
  • George Strait, Troubadour
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless
  • Carrie Underwood, Carnival Ride

Taylor Swift became the third consecutive female artist to win in this category, a feat that would’ve seemed unthinkable earlier in the middle part of the decade, when country radio all but exiled women from radio.

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Classic Country Singles: The Browns, "The Three Bells"

January 3, 2010 Kevin John Coyne 4

The Three Bells
The Browns

Written by Dick Manning, Bert Reisfeld and Jean Villard

The structure of “The Three Bells” should be familiar to any listener of contemporary country music. A genre that prides itself on its simplicity is ambitious enough to tell an entire life story in under four minutes. It’s an approach that has created several classic singles like “Where’ve You Been” , “Time Marches On” and “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye.”

One of the most significant historical examples of this structure comes from The Browns, who had a massive crossover hit with their 1959 single “The Three Bells.” It’s a simple tale. The church bells ring three times throughout the course of Jimmy Brown’s life: on the day of his baptism, the day of his wedding, and the day of his funeral. The preacher has words of wisdom for each occasion, ones that would be familiar to any Christian churchgoer, Catholic or otherwise.

That the character shares the same name as lead singer Jim Ed Brown and takes place in a little country town might lead you to believe that this was a song of Nashville origin, but it actually began its life and its worldwide success in France as the story of Jean-François Nicot. Originally written in French, “Les Trois Cloches” was an international hit for Édith Piaf, the songstress that was recently immortalized in the film La Vie En Rose. The Browns, composed of siblings Jim Ed, Maxine, and Bonnie, had been performing the song since seeing it Les Campagnons de la Chanson performing an English-language version on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1952.

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Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number

November 9, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 24

george-strait1While Taylor Swift mania continues to grow, there’s another impressive accomplishment being achieved by two veterans of country music on the opposite end of the age spectrum.

Contrary to what is commonly believed, there has always been a ceiling on how old you could be and still get country airplay. This year, both George Strait and Reba McEntire have been working steadily to shatter that ceiling.

Take a look at the age of country legends when they earned their most recent top ten solo hit:

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The Worst Singles of the Decade, Part 2: #40-#31

October 24, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 38

thumbs downThe banality continues. Read Part 1 here.

The Worst Singles of the Decade, Part 2: #40-#31

Kenny Chesney & George Strait, “Shiftwork”

A stab at the working class blues still ends up on a tropical island by the third verse.

Anita Cochran featuring The Voice of Conway Twitty, “(I Wanna Hear) A Cheatin’ Song”

In which a duet is formed from beyond the grave by chopping up bits and pieces of old Conway Twitty songs and reassembling them word by word.

Billy Dean, “Let Them Be Little”

Thirty seconds in and you’ll be headed to your dentist for a cavity filling.

Montgomery Gentry, “She Couldn’t Change Me”

Sorry boys, but “some hip-hop mess” would be a great improvement over this hillbilly trainwreck.

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Country Music Firsts

August 24, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 40

pamtillisOur readers have clearly responded well to our Back to the Nineties features this month. (Fret not, there are more on the way.) Part of the reason is that so many of you, like myself and Leeann, first discovered country music in that decade.

This isn’t too surprising, as the nineties helped establish country music as a genre with widespread appeal. The suburbanization of once-rural America reached its apex, and at the same time, CMT deeply penetrated the cable market. For you newbies, the channel was 24-hour videos back then, with remarkably democratic video rotation.

A clip in heavy rotation would only be seen two more times a day than one in light rotation. This is the reason both Mutt Lange and Sean Penn discovered Shania Twain through her “What Made You Say That” clip, which was played extensively on the channel despite the song stalling at #55 at radio.

The New York country radio station back then would do a “Country Convert” feature every morning. A radio listener would call in and say what song converted them to country music. Newbies to country music back then had a religious zeal to them, and would work very hard trying to convince others to fall in love with the music.

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Traditional Country is a Link in a Long Chain

June 30, 2009 Guest Contributor 23

The following is a guest contribution from Scott O’Brien.

“But someone killed tradition. And for that someone should hang.” –Larry Cordle & Larry Shell, “Murder on Music Row”

Dan Milliken’s recent post got me thinking: The country music I grew up with is nothing like the music on country radio today. If I turned on today’s country radio in 1988, I might not realize it was a country station and keep right on flipping. Back then, Randy Travis and Keith Whitley’s traditional twang ruled the airwaves. Today, they are dominated by the giggly teeny-bopper ditties of Taylor Swift and the boy band sounds of Rascal Flatts. Did they get away with murder on music row? Well, let’s start by briefly uncovering country’s traditional roots.

What is traditional country music? Is it simply anything from the past? That seems too broad; Shania Twain wasn’t traditional. Anything before 1990? Maybe, but that is still a rather wide net. To me, traditional country music is honky-tonk music. It heavily employs steel guitars, fiddles, and forlorn vocals. It moves at a slow pace. There are no drums or electric guitars. The songs typically deal with heavy topics such as heartbreak, cheating, or drinking, with a ballad here and there. In most cases, the goal is to induce pain. Not bad pain, but the therapeutic empathy that tugs your heart and helps you through your personal struggles. The patron saint of traditional country is Hank Williams. Hank’s first disciple is George Jones. Jones’ first disciple is Alan Jackson. The traditional template is supposed to help us decipher what is country and what is not. After all, what makes country music country if not fiddles and cheatin’ songs?

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